LASR projects at WMS focus on college prep, inquiry based learning, and expanding a student’s horizons. Learn more about how LASR projects can deepen a student’s understanding of academics and the world around them in this podcast with the Director of Student Inquiry and Research at WMS.
John: Hi, I'm John Maher and I'm here today with Sara Kelley-Mudie, Director of Student Inquiry and Research at The White Mountain School, a private college prep day and boarding school in New Hampshire. Today we're talking about LASR projects. Welcome, Sara.
Sara: Thank you, John.
What Are LASR Projects?
John: Sara, what are The White Mountain Schools' LASR projects?
Sara: LASR stands for Leadership, Arts, Service, and Research and those are the different types of projects students pursue. Just as a laser amplifies and focuses energy, a LASR project amplifies and focuses student curiosity. While there are different types of opportunities students pursue as part of their LASR project, there's three main components to all of them -- significant academic research, a presentation to the community, and creating something that adds value to the world. They're a way for students to engage deeply with a question that they are curious about.
John: Could we relate this to, say like a thesis that a student in college might do? Is it similar to that?
Sara: Absolutely. The inspiration comes from all sorts of different experiences and it's really an opportunity for them to really explore questions they're passionate about, that they may not find a space for in another class.
LASR Projects & Inquiry Based Learning
John: How do the LASR projects fit in with the school's inquiry-based learning model and how are the projects effective in terms of teaching and learning?
Sara: Just as students often do different types of work in preparation for a thesis, students do many LASR projects throughout their time at WMS. Those are smaller in scale, but they build the same sorts of skills that students will use during their LASR project. It's posing good questions, it's pursuing answers to those questions, it's doing academic writing and often presenting as well. Students are prepared with the skills throughout their time at WMS.
John: The LASR project is something that the students do in their senior year, is that right?
Sara: Most are done during junior or senior year. Oftentimes, the inspiration for those projects does come from work that they've done either freshman, sophomore or junior year and something they want an opportunity to explore more deeply.
Preparing for a LASR Project
John: Like you said, they have these mini-LASR projects that they're doing throughout their academic career here at White Mountain School, so once they get to their LASR project, obviously they're hearing about it and they're thinking about what they might want to do probably the whole time that they're here at school. But they're involved in doing similar smaller scale projects like this so it doesn't come as a big surprise when they go to do their LASR project. They understand what the concept is and what it's about and how to do it.
Sara: Absolutely. I was even talking with a sophomore yesterday, who is already talking about what he might want to do for his LASR project and where his inspirations are coming from. Those conversations are so exciting to see students really deeply curious and really excited to have an opportunity that students don't always have in other schools to really take a question and explore it deeply.
Examples of LASR Projects at WMS
John: Right. Tell me a little bit about what some of the LASR projects are that students are working on right now, or have done in the past?
Sara: Right. There's so many really fantastic ones. What I really love is the sort of the range of different types of projects that student do and where their inspirations come from. I've seen projects about human emotion and decision-making, as well as what makes blockbusters succeed. Right now, I have a student looking at the effectiveness of mirror therapy in stroke patients. She’s interested in pursuing medicine and this is something that she's heard about, but doesn't know much about and wants this opportunity to explore her questions about what that is. Recently, a student did a project on the chemistry of ceramic glazes and a really gorgeous presentation of how different glazes work. What I love that is that student-driven interdisciplinarity. That student identified how these two disciplines might work together and took the LASR project as an opportunity to go deep on that project.
John: Right. They're doing like ceramic pottery and then chemistry, taking those two things and combining them and studying the chemical properties of glazes and the difference that it makes, from a more of an academic point of view.
Sara: Yes. That's a perfect example of a time where a student did one of these mini-LASR projects or did a mini-LASR project and wanted to explore that question more deeply and use the LASR project as an opportunity to do so. We also have a student right now, and I definitely want to mention this one, because it I think it speaks to so many of the values we have at WMS. [We have] a student who is looking at sustainable food systems and how we can make our food system here more sustainable, which brings in our focus on sustainability, but also that key component of the LASR project, is we want students to see and know that what they create adds value to the world.
Student Experiences & LASR Projects
John: Right. Do you find that students incorporate lots of information that they've gathered from both their classes and maybe their field courses that they're doing, where they're studying, they're doing this week-long study projects outside of the classroom. Do they take the things that they learn on those field courses and in their more classroom academics and tie those into what their LASR project is going to be?
Sara: Oftentimes, yes. Students often see connections between the different experiences they're having that we wouldn't be able to identify for them. That's the power of student-driven inquiry. The questions that students are coming up with based on all of their different experiences, based on how they are engaging in all sorts of different activities that these questions, that inspiration can come from any place. Our role is to help nurture that curiosity that students naturally have.
LASR Projects and College Placement
John: Right. What do you think the value of a LASR project is, especially in terms of college placement?
Sara: For the students themselves, it's an opportunity to explore something that they might be interested in pursuing in college. For some of them, it's a really clarifying moment of, "Yes, this is absolutely what I want to do" and for some it's an opportunity to say, "Yes, I was deeply interested in this, but it's led me to this other passion as well and maybe that's something I want to explore."
John: It's helpful for the student, in terms of deciding what it is that they might want to study in college?
Sara: Yes. It's also helping the application process, that they can demonstrate to colleges the type of work that they're capable of, the type of deep engagement with questions that they are skilled at. These projects are often done junior year and or fall of senior year. With the college placement process in mind, the mentor for that project can write a very powerful letter about that student and the work they're capable of. [It’s also a way for the] college counselor to know the students, their passions, their interests and support them through the college application process.
John: Okay. That's really great information, Sara. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Sara: Thank you.
John: For more information visit the school's website at whitemountain.org or call 603-444-2928.